Yesterday Bez and an army of volunteers took over land surrounding the old Woolpack pub in Pendleton and dug it up to plant apple trees as part of a forest garden project that will eventually provide free food for the community.
"When I was campaigning last year in Pendleton, one of my policies was taking responsibility back for your own life, for your food production, so I'm donating trees" Bez explained "They are all rare breed apple trees and some will grow into big substantial trees producing thirty, forty or fifty kilos of apples every year; some are smaller, and I've also got some plum trees.
"The idea is to hopefully create Salford's first forest garden, in which everything you look at is food" he added "So on the top layer you've got apple trees, coming down to fruit trees, coming down to perpetual spinaches, kales...and these things grow without tending."
The project is being done on a voluntary basis and is costing nothing, with Salford City Council providing the land, having hopefully learnt a lesson after the similar Biospheric Project, with its `innovative city farm' in Blackfriars went bust last year having had £400,000 of public money sunk into it, including £300,000 from the Council (see previous Salford Star article – click here)...
...Or maybe not. Cash-strapped Salford Council is also sinking £19million into the Royal Horticultural Society's Garden Bridgewater in Worsley, including £9million to Peel Holdings (see here) – a fact which stunned Bez, whose philosophy is that nature is free...
"That is horrifying" he said "Things like that is shocking news to me. Hopefully this is the start of something big and that people will see the produce on this open space and think `We should have one of them in our area'"
This community project will not only see help-yourself fruit and vegetable produce but is also to be the centre for Coffee4Craig's new food bank and a future scheme for the Woolpack pub itself.
"We've done a lot of work in Manchester with the homeless out on the streets but we want to cement that relationship with Salford because we are a Salford organisation" explained Fie Lancaster from Coffee4Craig "Even though we lost our base at Lancaster House we are still rooted here. We want to encourage the guys who we get off the streets to take part in local community activities like today.
"Bez has been working with the Salford community and has brought some lovely trees today which are being planted for fruit, that you can come along and pick on your way to school in the mornings or whatever" she added "It's about promoting healthy eating, living off the land and permaculture. Bez promised it and he's doing it."
Meanwhile, two shipping containers, donated to Coffee4Craig by St Charles Primary School in Swinton will be moved onto the site to re-start the organisation's food bank, for which its popular five tin challenge will be re-launched.
That the newest community project in Central Salford is about free food and food banks says everything there is to know about the state of the city at the moment. At the back of the Woolpack pub site are the high and low rise blocks owned by Salford Council and managed by the PFI project, Pendleton Together.
Pendleton Together is increasing service charges for those living in sheltered accommodation at Lombardy Court by over 17%, while tenants in the other blocks are to be hit by rises of up to 10.5%, having already been hit by rent rises of 20% in recent years (see here).
There is also an ongoing issue with the NIBE heating system installed in people's flats as part of a refurbishment which was supposed to take them out of fuel poverty but has had the opposite effect for many tenants (see here).
At yesterday's event, the Salford Star collared Paul Longshaw, from Salford Council, who is overseeing the Pendleton Together project, and asked him whether Bez's free food project was needed for those in the blocks who couldn't afford energy bills, service charges and the rent increases that have been foisted upon them.
"We work with people who are struggling in terms of paying any household bills to try and maximise their income in the best way we can" he said "The difficulties we have is that we sometimes have to deal with central government policies that are out there, so we work with people the best we can."
The mild winter has saved many from crippling fuel bills associated with the NIBE, acknowledged by Longshaw...
"It has been a very mild winter again and there has been some difficulties with operating the new system and we know that" he said "The housing association to their credit has put in a lot of time, effort and resources to work with people to get the best use of this heating system. At this moment in time I cannot say these systems are working poorly, badly or whatever yet because we need a proper heating season. We're trying to get the new technology working as best it can."
In the meantime, Bez and his army of volunteers from Coffee4Craig, the Reality Party, Salford University, Keepmoat and even the local police yesterday, were getting nature to work as best it can to alleviate local poverty and push healthy living...
"It's disgraceful what's happening to the poorer members of our society" Bez explained "One of my friends, for instance, got a letter the other day. He's a single parent, works for a living but he needs working tax credits, and they've changed the laws, so he cannot tick any of the boxes to meet the new requirements. It's a joke.
"What are they doing to us?" he asked "This is about claiming responsibility back for our lives. We can't be crying into our hankies all the time and we need to start acting like a community and doing something together.
"I'm here on a non-political journey today, just to provide free food and hoping that this orchard will be the start of many more projects throughout the Salford area where people reclaim responsibility, taking care of their own food production" he added "We have a community service system. Instead of sweeping the streets they should be digging community growing spaces, teaching them new skills and bringing purpose back to people's lives.
"We've got to look at how we do things as a social group, and try and improve our lot together as decent human beings" he explained "What's the point of spending thousands of pounds on all these ornamental gardens that don't do anything for anybody? Public growing areas like this, and apples, are a start. There's no truer saying than `An apple a day keeps the doctor away'..."
Photos by Steven Speed